By Nithin Sridhar
The Center for Global Development based in Washington recently undertook analysis and interpretation of data and satellite imagery from around 100 countries and have estimated that around 714 million acres of tropical forests, roughly the size of India, may be cut-down by 2050.
Deforestation is a world-wide crisis which will have far reaching and long-term consequences on the ecology and future of the world. Forests play a very vital role in the ecological cycle. They serve as carbon storage banks and hence help in reducing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere by absorbing them during photosynthesis.
Forests are also a big source of various commercial and medicinal products. Tropical forests, in particular, are home to various species of plants, birds, and animals. Without forests, the rich bio-diversity cannot be sustained which in turn will lead to ecological disaster. The green cover helps to enrich the soil and recharge the ground water level.
Forests also help in regulating the water cycle. They prevent wastage of rainwater and allow it to permeate through the soils into the ground water. This water in turn helps various animals and birds through ponds or streams and to humans through man-made wells.
One of the major reasons for deforestation is agriculture. For last many centuries, forests have been repeatedly cut down and cleared to cultivate those lands with food and commercial crops. While, farming and producing food is important, the consequences of these actions were not given importance. Forests were also used and are still being used as a source for firewood and timber. A large number of trees are cut every day for utilizing the logs for various human purposes like buildings houses, making furniture, making paper etc. Industrialization has also been another major reason for felling of trees.
Other causes include forest fires, mining, wars and battles, overgrazing, urbanization etc. The zeal shown in the cutting of trees does not match the enthusiasm which needs to be there while planting new trees. As a result, the area under forests is dwindling every day at a fast pace. It is clear that the major causes of rapid deforestation are the human thoughts and actions. Neither people have a clear perspective about the vital role played by forests, ecologically or economically, nor do they show any interest to know about it. Furthermore, some people work under the assumption that the world is forever present for providing them and fulfilling all their fancies. Therefore, there is a competition between humans and all other species present in the world over natural resources.
In “Deforestation: Causes, Effects and Control Strategies”, while explaining about these driving forces of deforestation, Sumit Chakravarty and others, quote Pearce and Brown thus:
1. Competition between humans and other species for the remaining ecological niches on land and in coastal regions. This factor is substantially demonstrated by the conversion of forest land to other uses such as agriculture, infrastructure, urban development, industry and others.
2. Failure in the working of the economic systems to reflect the true value of the environment. Basically, many of the functions of tropical forests are not marketed and as such are ignored in decision making. Additionally, decisions to convert tropical forests are themselves encouraged by fiscal and other incentives.
One of the most important consequences of deforestation is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This increase in carbon dioxide will lead to increased trapping of heat on the earth surface and hence increasing the temperature of earth’s surface. Therefore, the decreasing forest cover can be directly correlated to global warming; which will further lead to climate change that will cause heat stress, floods, draughts, crop-failures, water scarcity etc.
Other harmful effects of deforestation include destruction of biodiversity, decrease in soil fertility and decreased ground water levels. Deforestation will also impact the world economically and socially. Water and food scarcity will induce more migration and food wars. Many indigenous people will also be devoid of their forest homes, hence causing a destruction of their entire culture.
The best measure to tackle growing deforestation is to strictly monitor felling of trees and to plant new trees. The reforestation programs will have long-term positive impact on the globe. At the same time, the rate of deforestation must be brought down. Brazil can be a good example, which has reduced deforestation in the Amazon. Controlling population growth can be another effective measure.
Massive awareness campaigns to increase awareness about forests and sincere efforts by various governments across the globe can definitely bring down the deforestation and may even slowly increase forest cover.